Total HR as a Strategic Business Partner

By James Harwood, Total HR Management

While at Intel Corporation I managed a team of HR professionals with the title “Strategic Business Partner”.  This may seem oxymoronic to some as managers inside organizations are less likely to see their HR department as a strategic business partner and more likely to perceive HR as a hindrance or roadblock to managing their business.  Yet, the title “Strategic Business Partner” if successfully fulfilled reinforces the value an effective HR professional can add to your business.  So what does it mean for HR to be a strategic business partner vs. a pain in the neck policy enforcer?  HR can add value by being engaged in the strategic process, developing leadership capability, recruiting and retaining talent and assessing organizational success.  Here is a summary of how HR can add strategic value in each of these areas.

HR and the Strategic Process
Critical to HR’s function as a strategic partner is their role in the strategic process.  Not only is it important for HR to participate in the corporate strategic planning process to further its understanding of business needs for the upcoming year, it is also important to align its own calendar and focus with the corporate agenda to support HR’s position as a strategic partner.

Key questions to ask HR to ensure they are a key player in the organization’s strategic process:

  • What organizational capabilities must our organization have to gain and/or maintain a competitive advantage?
  • What knowledge, skills and abilities do our people need to successfully execute our business strategy?
  • How do we create an HR strategy that sets an agenda for how HR will help our company succeed?

Developing Leaders
Reviewing performance and recognizing the potential of leaders are strategic keys to a company’s future. In best-practice organizations, the ability to deliver the results outlined in the strategic plan is balanced with an appreciation of a person’s potential for further growth and development. A review of both these variables is a serious and regular part of the strategy process.

Values and competencies are the foundation of leadership development. Best practice organizations begin the process of developing leaders with a foundation of key corporate values and then focus on key competencies that grow out of the value base and the strategic mission.

Recruiting and Retaining Talent
Instilling values and developing employees’ abilities is only one part of HR’s job of assisting capable individuals to grow and develop their talents. Recruiting and retaining talent is an important priority for best-practice companies.  Best practice companies understand the importance of attracting and retaining top talent because of the belief that “getting the right people on the bus” is likely to lead to better employee performance and long-term business success.

Recruiting does not start or end with hiring. The process begins with a carefully thought through identification of what kinds of skills will be needed to execute the firm’s emerging strategic goals.  The process continues with a crafted “on boarding” process that then links to assessment and developmental activities.

Some firms do a “risk assessment” to determine which critical people are most likely to leave the firm either because of limited internal opportunities or external offers that provide greater opportunities for advancement.   Best practice firms identify from 5 to 20 percent (10 percent seems most common) of their managers as high potentials and provide them with extra opportunities for development.

Assessing Success
Recognizing the importance of the HR-business strategic partnership, leadership development, and recruitment and retention of talent can lead to company improvements. But how can firms measure changes in individual performance? Nothing reinforces strategic objectives more than measurement and ties to incentive compensation. While some common measures are used by best practices firms, the key assessment items vary significantly according to the strategic emphasis of a given firm.

Measurements are compared historically, internally, and externally. High performing firms want to show progress from year to year in their key performance measures. Comparing current and past scores on concepts such as “reduction in turnover rates,” “recruiting costs per hire” or “employee engagement survey scores” are common ways of determining if progress is being made. While these are the foundation of a company’s internal HR performance measures, many firms also want to see how they are doing on these measures relative to comparison firms. Typically, objective measures, such as costs of turnover, are balanced with input from employee opinion surveys to assess the success of HR initiatives.

For more information about how an HR Professional from Total HR Management can partner with your organization to add value as a strategic business partner contact us at 800-975-5128 or visit us on the web at

Source: HR’s Strategic Partnership with Line Management, Human Resources plays an important, strategic role in supporting organizations.
Robert M. Fulmer, PhD and Steven Genson, MBA

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